It’s the time of year when you see parts of schedules or rumors of schedules. Some conferences have theirs done. Others not so much. Mostly it’s a lot of “I think we’re doing this…” So let’s run through some thoughts on scheduling.
I’m a pretty big proponent of the MPA stepping in and not allowing conferences to close off their schedules. Walled-off gardens rarely work all that well, outside of the Apple ecosystem, and create situations where teams are woefully unprepared for the playoffs because they have to play a conference schedule that doesn’t feature a lot of teams in their region. I get that it makes scheduling easier, but that feels like an artifact of an old system. There’s no shortage of websites and apps that can handle this. The easiest system may be to have someone like the MPA handle ALL the scheduling, but that’s kind of taking a bazooka to kill a mosquito. It’s probably better to have teams handle it themselves. But, I think it’s important that teams play at least a chunk of their schedule in the region. Playing 16 games against D schools and then rolling into the C tournament with a bye isn’t good for anyone.
Four (Hundred) Factors
There’s a lot to consider when you’re an AD trying to make a schedule. There’s gym time and other sports and other demands on the venue and travel and a dozen other things. You probably want to prioritize rivalry games and Varsity doubleheaders because they’re more fun and bring in a bigger crowd. (Side note: can we please make all Senior Nights Varsity Doubleheaders? The parent who has a kid on the girls team probably wants to see the boys Senior Night. It’s better for the overall program.) If it were me, I’d want to do a Varsity Doubleheader home and away with my 3 or 4 biggest rivals, even if they aren’t in my region.
When the MPA moved the Heal Points weight from 5 to 2, the reasoning was that there’d be more benefit in playing cross-class games, thus preserving your rivalry games. Some schools have embraced that. Others haven’t. But that’s good. No one knows better than the AD and the coach what is the best course of action for the program. Which leads us to…
I’ve talked a lot about how 18 games probably isn’t enough. The optimal number is likely somewhere between 22 and 26. But, again, this could vary between programs. If you’re gunning for a Gold Ball, you want to play as many games as possible. If you’re rebuilding or you just don’t have a lot of kids in your program, more games might not be ideal.
Here’s what I’d like to see:
- MPA-mandated minimum of 14 games in your region or at least 2 games against every team in your region, whichever is smaller. So if you’re in D and there’s only 7 teams one year, you only need to play 12 in your region. You can absolutely play more.
- Heal point minimum divisor of 14 games.
- You can play a maximum of 24 games. That’s an extra 6 games. The easiest way to do this is to play more games before Christmas and with the benefit of 6 extra games, your Heal Points can more easily weather a rough start to the season.
- The non-mandated games between 14 and 24? Play whoever you want.
The beauty of this is it gives teams flexibility. If you’re surrounded by traditional rivals who are all in a class above or below you, you’ve got spots to play them. If you think you’re going to have a big year and want to test yourself against schools in a high class, you can do that. If you want to take a road trip and play a couple of games against teams in the other half of the state, you can do that. Hell, you can do all three. Whatever you think will benefit your program the most, do that.
But you know what will make this even easier?
Bring Back the Christmas Tournaments
There used to be a lot more Christmas tournaments. But with so few dates where you can play an exhibition game, that’s kind of gone away. See also: those games where the varsity would play against the alumni.
Here’s what I’d love to see (and this works much better with some regions than others):
Do a region-centric Christmas tournament at your tournament site and have a couple of days where you knock out a lot of your worst travel days. It doesn’t really work for Class C because there’s so many teams, but it would totally work for Class A and AA. This of course, depends on your ability to get the venue, but let’s say you can. You could run it for a couple of days and have the participating teams each play a couple of countable games, like a mini tournament preview. Think of it as more of a showcase and a chance to get everyone on the big floor. Plus, you could use this to eliminate some of the less-fun road trips in the regular season. Presque Isle and Caribou could come down and play Oceanside and MDI. Hampden and Brewer could play Medomak Valley and Skowhegan. Bangor and Oxford Hills could play some of the Portland schools. Suddenly a bunch of these awful road trips are a little more fun and you’re playing these games in front of a decent crowd and not just the 15 parents who can do a 3 hour drive. Work in as many Boys/Girls doubleheaders as possible.
For regions that don’t lend themselves as easily to this, it’s a chance to play some teams you don’t otherwise get to play because you’ve got some extra dates to work with.
My main point is let’s bring back Christmas games. Open up the number of dates you can play and let’s just have wall-to-wall basketball from December 26th until the new year.
The main thing here is that if we get rid of closed conference schedules, mandate a certain number of games in-region, and open some of the limitations on games played, schools will be free to schedule in a way that’s best for them, while preserving a sense of fair play for the rest of the schools you’ll be facing come tourney time. And, hey, we might even get better matchups out of it.
What do you think?